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Loudoun Picks New Extension Agent

Childs keeps his focus on agriculture.

Corey Childs grew up on a family farm and now owns his own, a 90-acre sheep and cattle farm in Clarke County.

"If you enjoy agriculture, it gets into your system, and it's hard to think about anything else," Childs said.

Childs started July 10 as the county's agriculture and natural resources extension agent and director of extension services at the Loudoun County Extension Office in Leesburg. He is replacing Gary Hornbaker, who will begin working part-time in August in the Department of Economic Development as the rural resources coordinator to help land owners engaged in agricultural pursuits develop business plans.

Agriculture got into Childs' system from working on a 2,200-acre beef and cattle farm that has been in his family for more than 100 years. He and his two siblings helped their parents out on the farm, baling hay, milking cows and feeding the animals, along with doing other chores for the animal, hay, corn and small grains operation.

"The biggest thing I got out of it was my whole family was there … my parents and grandparents," said Childs, who is 40. "It was a big family unit."

Now, Childs and his wife of 15 years Janet get help on their Berryville farm, called Cornerstone Farm, from their four children, who are ages six to 17. "It's an opportunity for me to do things with them," he said.

SOMETHING ELSE that got into Childs' system is extension work. After he graduated from Virginia Tech in 1986 with degrees in animal science and agricultural education, he managed several farms for four years until 1990, when he began his extension career as a 4-H agent in Loudoun County.

"I grew up in the 4-H program, and it was a very influential part of my development," said Childs, who participated in the 4-H program from the time he was eight years old until he was 19 and has since volunteered for the club, most recently through a local 4-H club in Berryville. "I took the job initially because I wanted to provide youth with the same opportunities I had."

In 1991, state cuts forced Childs to take another position, so the state transferred him to Clarke County to serve as the 4-H extension agent there. A year later, he was transferred to Warren County to serve as the animal sciences extension agent. He soon moved up to unit coordinator and department head of Warren County extension, a position he has held for the past 10 years. In 1995, his coverage area extended to Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah counties, in addition to Warren County, all located in Planning District 7.

"It was based on his past experience as unit coordinator that he came highly recommended for the job here," said Keith Lilly, administrative manager in the extension office and a member of the eight-member interview committee that hired him, which included Linda Neri, deputy county administrator. "He has done programming with the former extension agent Gary Hornbaker over in this county, so he already knows a lot about the county and a lot about the farmers. ... We just think he will do a really good job here in Loudoun County."

WHILE in Warren County, Childs worked with Hornbaker to provide regional animal science educational programs and met several agricultural producers in Loudoun County. He found most of the producers to be progressive and willing to try new and improved production methods and adapt to market changes and demands, since they live close to an urban area, he said.

"We used to put area programs together to co-sponsor and facilitate meetings. It gave me an opportunity to meet some producers here, which hopefully is a good start," Childs said, adding that in the upcoming months, he plans to attend agriculture-related programs, meetings and events to meet producers and find out about their goals and needs.

Childs took the Loudoun position wanting to narrow his focus to one county and to provide producers with in-depth educational programs in animal science and forage, small grain and crop production. Loudoun has about 1,100 farms and is ranked No. 1 in the state for horse production, in the top five for hay production and in the top 10 for beef cattle, he said.

"He is a guy who knows very well the issues confronting Loudoun agriculture. He has a lot of experience in livestock and agronomy, and he's a very innovative thinker," said Louis Nichols, agricultural development officer and a member of the interview committee. "I think he knows how to make Loudoun's agriculture as profitable as it can be."

Nichols pointed out that both Warren and Loudoun counties are experiencing similar pressures with high land values, along with the general pressures of land costs, lack of labor and reduced commodity prices. "He's experienced all of that so far. He's a guy who's very capable of dealing with pressure on the agriculture community," he said.

IN HIS ROLE as extension agent, Childs will work with traditional family operations in livestock, horses, crops and grains. Extension agents are tasked with bringing research-based education that has been developed at land-grant universities to the local community, communicating the information in one-on-one meetings at farms and homes and at public and 4-H club meetings, extension programs and through the Internet.

"I just love the lifestyle. It's challenging physically and mentally, but if you love the environment and love animals, it's a nice way of life," Childs said.

Besides agriculture, the Loudoun County Extension Office focuses on consumer sciences and 4-H youth development to provide a variety of programs and services in each of these areas. Four extension agents work in two of the areas, one serving family and consumer sciences and three, agriculture. The agriculture extension agents specialize in consumer horticulture, commercial horticulture and animal sciences and crops.

As extension services director, Childs will coordinate programs in youth, adult and family development and agricultural and horticultural programs for residences, businesses and farms. He also will serve as the extension-appointed director to the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

"We'll miss the county agent we had for 20 years. ... We are used to real good one, [so] he has good footprints to follow," said Upperville resident Jim Wylie, agriculture manager for Lazy Lane Farm in Upperville, an 1,800-acre farm that produces angus beef cattle, thoroughbred racehorses, hay and grain. Wylie knows Childs through hosting extension events and beef production meetings at the farm. "I'm glad he's here. Loudoun County still has a very active livestock business, and he has deep roots in quality livestock. ... He has a good handle on the beef industry in this region."

The extension office has 10 staff members, including extension agents, administrative assistants and program technicians. The office is funded through federal, state and local funds. The local portion for Fiscal Year 2004 is $454,000.